In the registry department of Bloomingdale’s, 400 brides-to-be are waiting for Vera Wang. They’ve brought digital cameras and notebooks for their heroine to sign, like so many crazed teenage girls outside Justin Timberlake’s hotel. They’ve prepared questions (is it really necessary to have formal and casual china?), and they’ve dragged along their fiancés, who look, for the most part, tremendously bored.
Wang, meanwhile, has arrived, via the giant A-Team–style van she keeps in a garage beside her Park Avenue apartment. She’s in a Bloomingdale’s holding room, holding court.
“Would you like some water, Ms. Wang?” asks one of the many hovering, black-clad assistants.
“Do you have any vodka?” she answers, glancing toward the well-organized row of Poland Spring. Her voice is high and sounds almost deliberately nasal, like a put-on of an old-school garmento. “I mean, there’s got to be some vodka somewhere in this store, right?” Her publicist looks panicked. “Vodka tonic,” Wang insists, and the assistant is off.
“There are 400 brides, Ms. Wang,” another assistant offers.
Wang flaps her hand. “I’ve totally done more.”
What these brides, with their well-thumbed bridal magazines, don’t realize is that Vera Wang is not particularly interested in their rings, which they’ll attempt to show off as they flock around her, or, really, in the details of their Big Day. Wang—who totally transformed the bridal market, is a household name, and runs a $300 million business—has her mind on other things.
Four years ago, Wang launched ready-to-wear, and it took. She’d tried it before, but there was never enough time or money for it. Ready-to-wear is an expensive proposition, one that requires a tremendous outlay of cash and often loses money. But this time everything is different: Wang has licenses. Licenses that last year did $200 million in retail sales, which means plenty of money for ordering fabrics and hiring a design staff.
Finally, Wang is consummating a 34-year love affair with clothes. “I was a total fashion insider who became an outsider when I did bridal,” Wang says. “I’ve had to crawl out of a hole, and it was a huge hole. But I’ve finally done it. I never got to be me. Finally, I’m making clothes that are about me.”
“Not since Donna Karan has there been such an open, clear personality behind a brand in women’s ready-to-wear,” says Anna Wintour. Affirmation has come in several forms: prominent placement on Bergdorf Goodman’s third floor, right near Chloé, Marni, and Balenciaga; and the CFDA’s womenswear designer of the year award last June.
“Vera loves clothes,” says Paul Cavaco, the creative director of Allure who worked with Wang in the Vogue days. “Vera loves clothes beyond loving clothes; she loves everything that has to do with clothes. This is not a make-believe love here; it’s the real thing. Anything that has happened to Vera is a fallout of this love. It’s her only agenda. So she is going to present you clothes in an extremely loving manner: beautiful clothes in the most beautiful way possible.”
Vera Wang considers her own style very edgy. She refers regularly to a pantheon of designers with whom she identifies: Comme des Garçons, Ann Demeulemeester—designers who work in dark colors with deliberately offbeat shapes, designers as far from the frothy fantasy of a wedding day as possible.
In truth, Wang’s attitude toward dressing is shared by lots of fashion editors—one of which she was, at Vogue, for sixteen years. She wears incredibly expensive clothing (a Prada Astrakhan coat, for example) in an incredibly offhand way (thrown over leggings and clogs). She deliberately misaligns the buttons on her fine-gauge cashmere cardigans and gets a tremendous amount of pleasure from layering, particularly if a few of the layers are clever finds from the low end of the market that can be shown off with a mouth-open, wide-eyed display of disbelief that something so good could actually exist.
“You thought you were meeting a designer,” says Vera Wang. She’s barefoot in the full-floor living room of her Park Avenue apartment, stuffing a Rice Krispies Treat in her mouth. The room is so ornate—all yellow and gold, with a coordinating Monet on the wall—that it looks more like a grandly named suite in a very, very expensive hotel than a home, and Wang, 56 years old but jiggle-free in a pair of tight black leggings, resembles no one so much as Eloise, calling out to her housekeeper for her shearling coat. “I’m actually a little clown,” she says, grabbing the leggings in both hands and yanking them upward. Her daughter has come home, but Wang doesn’t notice. “Are the girls here?” Wang asks her housekeeper. They are, is the answer. “Okay,” Wang says, and she’s off.